I recently walked into a meeting, and even though I was invited to attend the meeting as a presenter, I walked out of the room at the end of it feeling very unwelcomed.
I wasn’t the only person who felt this way. There were two other invited guests, along with me, who experienced the same unwelcoming environment. The three of us left the meeting at the same time, and after a brief conversation with one another, we realized we were all leaving with a similar negative experience.
There were a lot of little things that happened over the course of the meeting, and that accumulatively, added up to being a BIG thing by the end of it! It was the lack of being greeted when we initially entered the room. It was the lack of not being named by name the entire time we were there. It was the lack of inclusiveness – having to sit in chairs away from the group and ignored as if we weren’t in the room at all. It was the lack of a proper introduction of us to the group by the leader when it was time for us to present. It was the lack of instruction as to where we were to stand for our presentation requiring us to figure it out on our own last minute. It was the lack of attention by the group leader who seemed more interested in her phone, monitoring our time, than to what we were actually presenting.
If the group ever asks me to rate my experience as a guest of theirs based on that one meeting, I would give them a 1-star rating when it came to extending hospitality.
Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines hospitality as, “generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests or hospitable treatment.” Dictionary.com goes further to define it as, “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.”
We all play an important role in how we treat guests and visitors. But it’s a very important role if you are the leader of an organization or group. A leader sets the expectation of hospitality by first modeling it themselves. I did not see hospitality modeled in any way by the group leader at the meeting I attended, so it’s not surprising that many of the group members didn’t emulate hospitality either.
The individuals who are also the first point of contact with your visitors play a vital role in extending a friendly, welcoming and hospitable reception. They set the tone for the visit and can influence whether visitors have a 5-star experience or not.
When my son and I were touring middle schools to determine which one he would attend after elementary school, it was the receptionist in the front office at each of the three schools that set the tone of our visit and ultimately influenced our decision.
The receptionist at the first middle school was friendly, but she didn’t go out of her way to help us. She simply answered some of our basic questions and handed us information to read later.
The receptionist at the second school seemed irritated the minute we told her why we were visiting. She made us feel like we were an inconvenience and informed us that we needed to schedule a time to visit and not come unannounced. So, we left with nothing in hand to read and none of our questions answered.
The receptionist at the third school greeted us with a smile as soon as we walked through the door. When she heard why we were visiting, she immediately quit what she was doing and took us to meet the principal, school counselor and school nurse. They were all friendly and greeted my son by name. They asked him about his favorite classes and outside interests. They seemed genuinely interested in him and excited at the possibility of having him as a student at their school the following year. Each of them also thanked us for coming to visit their school. The receptionist also arranged for a student to give us a tour of the building and when we were done and ready to leave, she asked us if there were any unanswered questions that she could still help us with.
As we got into the car to leave the third and final middle school, my son turned to me and said, “Mom, that’s the middle school I want to go to.”
I agreed with him. But I was curious as to if his reasons for choosing it were the same as mine. So, I asked him, “Why do you want to go to this school and not the others?”
He answered, “Because everyone was so nice and they all made me feel like they wanted me to come to their school.”
These were my same exact reasons, too.
Hospitality is best shown when you go above and beyond what is normally required. Though hospitality can be different for various people, it will always involve giving the best effort you can to provide a special and memorable 5-star experience. This is what the third middle school gave my son and me – a 5-star experience based primarily on the hospitality shown to us. They went the extra mile to make my son feel welcomed and wanted and it influenced not only his decision to attend the school, but also my daughter three years later.
Never underestimate the influence hospitality can have on a visitor – whether they are invited or not or are an adult or a child. You can’t go wrong by going above and beyond with your gestures of hospitality. It can make all the difference as to whether your visitors have a 5-star experience and whether they will want to return to your organization again.